Using natural history information for zoo animal management: a case study with okapi (Okapia johnstoni)
Until recently, the impact that the presence of conspecifics may have on stereotypic behaviour in naturally solitary species exhibited in zoological institutions has largely been ignored. This study examined the effect of adding a visual barrier between animal holding areas at the Brookfield Zoo on stereotypic head-rolling behaviour in an adult female okapi (Okapia johnstoni). Instantaneous sampling was used to document the proportion of time the female okapi spent head-rolling prior to and after visual barriers were constructed. Behavioural surveys were also distributed to animal care staff to document behavioural change following the installation of visual barriers. Results from both behavioural observations and animal care surveys suggest that obstructing the view of neighbouring conspecifics significantly reduced head-rolling behaviour and had a positive impact for this okapi. Information gained from this case study will hopefully stimulate discussion around how zoos manage solitary species, and increase research efforts to better understand the effect of the presence of conspecifics on stereotypic behaviour for solitary species. Moreover, we hope these results will contribute to both husbandry recommendations and best practice guidelines for zoo-housed okapi.